A new residence building proposal is in the works to tackle the growing numbers of students in need of affordable housing.
Those involved in making the building plans are hoping the proposal will be completed by the end of the semester. If approved, the new building will help the school approach the recommended 15 per cent on-campus student residence rate in the Students' Union affordable housing document released earlier this month.
Recently appointed vice-provost students Ann Tierney said that various university staff members have been working on this project for quite some time.
"I started at the university on the first of August, but prior to that, I understand last year, there had been a discussion at the board about putting together a plan to look at issues of residence," said Tierney. "We hope to have the preliminary proposal to go to the board in December. That's our plan."
Once at the board, the preliminary proposal will have to be evaluated and all the details approved. As yet, Tierney and Student Services assistant vice-president Jim Dunsdon have no solid information regarding the design of the building, contractors, or funding.
U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten during his report to the community announced the proposal earlier this week.
"We are going to make a recommendation to our board to build a 300-unit new residence on our campus, near cascade hall," said Weingarten. "If it's approved by our board, and there's good reason to think it is because they collaborated on making us make these plans, we will fast-track construction."
The proposed 300-unit building may contain as many as 500 beds.
Residence Services Association president Lance Stewart is excited about this proposal.
"I think that there are far too many variables to say that the problems with students trying to find a place to live can be met with a single residence building," said Stewart. "At the same time, the need for more residence units makes this a very big step in the right direction."
Students' Union VP External Mike Selnes seconded Stewart's comment.
"It's less than we asked for but still a good thing," said Selnes, noting that their proposal asked for 1,000 beds.
Weingarten expressed his sympathies to the students' situation.
"We appreciate and recognize the huge hurdles our students face in finding housing," said Weingarten. "This project is more than simply putting more residence beds up. It also makes the U of C more accessible to students, especially those who live outside of Calgary. We also know that students who live in residence, especially in their first- year have higher levels of engagement in the life of the university."
Tierney explained that the majority of students on the waiting list this summer were returning residence students and students transferring from other post-secondary schools. These older students prefer single rooms, which will therefore be the main focus of this building. The university guarantees residence to all first-year students and was able to keep that promise this year.
"We're trying to balance between having a building that can accommodate as many single rooms as possible and having a building that can accommodate as many students as possible," said Tierney.
Stewart believed that numbers should be their main concern.
"Personally I find that, as much as it's good to look at the needs and the wants of students, under ideal conditions almost every student would want to be by themselves," said Stewart. "You have a limited numbers of beds and a lot of students that want to get in. Students from last year would have much rather lived in a four bedroom apartment than not get in at all."
The building should be completed by fall 2010 by the latest, but both Tierney and Dunsdon are hoping for a fall 2009 deadline. Dunsdon ensured that other projects on campus would not be postponed for the sake of more living space.
"I think they will have to be separate projects that will have to occur concurrently," said Dunsdon. "I can't see anyone being delayed because of another project."
Weingarten also explained that there are too many other ongoing projects on-campus to consider building more than one building at the moment.
Stewart was less optimistic about reaching the 2009 deadline. If the proposal is approved, timing of completion will depend mainly on the response of contractors.
"At the same time, I think the main thing that we should look for is creating a building that is affordable for students," noted Stewart. "As much as everyone loves the luxury, it's just not necessary for student prices."
Tierney and Dunsdon were unable to estimate future rent costs of the units. Dunsdon said that they were looking at every funding source available. A combination of capital grants, loans, and hopefully even a donor may help to pay for the building.
"I hope the entire funding of the building is not through debt financing," said Selnes.
He said he believed that a new residence building will not aid the affordable housing market if students are left to pay for it.